Archive for January, 2007

EU energy proposals emerge but disappoint many

January 15, 2007

As anticipated last week, the European Commission has launched its blueprint for a “new industrial revolution” based on a set of new energy and climate policy proposals. Most of what we anticipated was correct. The only major proposal that had appeared in the most recent draft documents but later disappeared was the proposal to set a border tax on products coming from countries that did not regulate greenhouse gas emissions, such as the US.

The EU Commission called for Europe to set a unilateral target to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020, rising to 30% if other industrialised countries will do the same. The decision to set a unilateral target has undoubtedly sent shock-waves across the world. However, environmentalists complained the target is very low compared to what needs to be done to ensure the world stays below a 2 degree increase above pre-industrial temperatures. The Commission itself recognises in accompanying documents that it will be cost-effective and feasible for the EU to make the reductions necessary to stay within this limit, which scientists say is the key threshold to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

New legislation will likely emerge on renewables (to achieve a 20% share of renewable energy by 2020 and a 10% target for biofuels) and carbon capture and storage, including the possibility of installing carbon capture and storage in several fossil fuel power stations by 2015 and phasing out plants without it. Environmentalists were unhappy about the lack of other sectoral targets, and a complete lack of any new measures for the heating and cooling sector.

The mention of nuclear power as a key technology received lots of media coverage. However, in reality the EU does not have the power to regulate the fuel mix of member states (and most of them plan to phase out nuclear or have never had it). The package will however lead to new EU rules on nuclear safety and security, which some believe may boost investment on nuclear (which has stalled for decades).

The progress report on renewable energy, a key document that was issued with the energy package, appeared to have not been given enough coverage in many countries (although there was major coverage on all newspapers in Italy, as this sunny country turned out to be at the bottom of the league table on renewables, with this technology declining rather than growing…). I will try to write more about this in the coming days.

The EU Commission is also going to do more work with China to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions there, Reuters reported.

EU regulations have global impact, says US study

January 14, 2007

A US academic study has concluded that EU environmental regulations are having a global environmental impact. The study discusses a number of recent Directives & Regulations:

  • The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), which obliges manufacturers and importers of electronic goods to pay for their disposal.
  • The Restriction on Hazardous Substances (ROHS) Directive, which bans certain substances from electrical goods.
  • The REACH Regulation, which creates a new regulatory system for the production and use of chemicals, and which was finalised at the end of 2006. (I’ll be writing more about this regulation at some point soon, as it has been a major area of my work during the last 10 years)
  • The authors argue that these regulations are affecting global markets, and are also being copied by countries outside of Europe.

    These authors are reinforcing an argument made by many people (including myself) that the EU is now a major driver of global environmental standards, particularly product-related standards.

    For more details, see the press release from the authors, the article itself and coverage in Euractiv [Note that the Euractiv article incorrectly states that the WEEE and ROHS Directives will be implemented during 2007; in fact the WEEE directive should have been implemented in 2005, though the UK is implementing it in 2007, and the most important ROHS deadline was in 2006].

    EU Commission energy package hanging in the balance

    January 9, 2007

    European Union (EU) commissioners are reportedly struggling to reach a final agreement on the detail of the forthcoming package of policies on EU energy, to be published Wednesday. The package will include proposals on issues such as coal, carbon capture and storage, renewables, and long term climate change targets.

    A preliminary analysis of the leaked documents, most of which I’ve seen, indicates that some of the documents will be heavily drawing on the UK government’s Stern Review report issued in 2006, which warned of massive economic and social damages if the world failed to tackle climate change.

    In an apparent contradiction, though, there appears to be considerable debate on whether and how renewables should continue to grow. There has been much debate on whether this target should be expressed solely as a general energy target, or whether there should also be targets for electricity, heating and cooling, and transport. The current system includes targets for electricity and transport, and discussions were underway to set targets for heating and cooling. The renewable energy industry and environmental groups have been extremely alarmed about these attempts to change a system that is working well. The EU Parliament voted in December to keep and strenghen these sectoral targets.

    The Commission will also issue league tables assessing how member countries are doing in meeting their existing renewable targets. Eight countries well on track on their renewables target, and some will exceed it. The UK is among the countries that are not on track and which may need to change their policies, the draft says.

    The draft proposals also say global emissions should be halved by 2050 compared with levels in 1990 and that the EU should show world leadership on the issue. The documents mention the need for long term targets beyond 2012, as required by the Kyoto Protocol. There is considerable debate about how high the target should be, and we can also expect a big battle later on how to achieve this target and what it includes.

    Other issues covered in the draft proposals include:

    -measures to promote so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology to store Carbon Dioxide underground, with the possibility of ten demonstration CCS plants by 2015 and a requirement for all new coal plants capture ready.

    -the possibility that in the future the EU might put in place measures to tackle shipping emissions.

    -the EU Commission modeling assumes that nuclear power will grow. However, nuclear power in Europe has stalled for decades and it is hard to imagine how this trend will be reversed. It is possible, although not certain, that there will no specific proposals leaving Member States to decide on this (also, most EU member states do not have plans to expand nuclear power and many do not have any nuclear capacity at all).

    -proposals to liberalise energy markets further. According to a Reuters story Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes and Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had pushed hardest for liberalisation of the sector while Industry Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, who are German and French respectively, opposed radical changes.

    -measures to improve management of oil and gas stocks and better interconnectivity of power grids among EU countries. There are hopes this would potentially give the bloc one voice in dealing with third countries.

    -proposal for a a major international agreement on saving energy with the aim of signing it during the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, as reported by Reuters.

    The energy ministers of all 27 Member States will meet on 15 February to discuss the package, and environment ministers will meet five days later. On 8 and 9 March, all heads of state will meet to make final decisions on it.

    Welcome to Europe, Planet Earth

    January 9, 2007

    A new year and a new blog – but what makes this blog different?

    Like many blogs, this has a focus – Europe (particularly the European Union) and its environmental policy.

    The European Union (EU) is now made up of 27 countries, with a population of just under 500 million people (see ‘What is the EU‘ on this site for more details). The EU is rich by global standards, and includes the countries that started the industrial revolution.

    In the last few decades, the EU has become one of the leading environmental regulators in the world, agreeing regulations to control factory pollution, chemicals in toys and protection of biodiversity, to name just a few.

    The world is facing massive environmental challenges, not least climate change/global warming. What can the EU – and its environmental policies – do to help move us towards a sustainable future? The EU has the power to do a huge amount – but does it have the political will?

    We are not trying to substitute for news services such as ENDS Europe Daily (which we highly recommend). Instead we plan to offer up a more personal selection of what is happening in what is (probably) the world’s most active environmental regulator.

    To find out more about us & this blog, see about this blog.